(MCT) CHICAGO — In the White Sox clubhouse Tuesday, the East Coast teenage right wing still within Paul Konerko waxed nostalgic about the sport that still warms his heart if not pays his bills.
"I can go back to every year since I can remember and tell you every Stanley Cup winner from then on and remember the captain who lifted the Cup," said Konerko, who still likes to skate in the offseason.
Getting tickets from a friend for Wednesday night's Blackhawks-Red Wings Game 7 thrilled Konerko as much as going deep. The man who grew up in Rhode Island and Connecticut loving hockey called the opportunity "a dream." So it hardly surprised Konerko that TV ratings for Chicago showed the Hawks drew twice as many viewers Monday night as the Cubs-Sox game.
"I can't blame them," Konerko said. "Don't ask me which one I'd be watching if I wasn't playing."
I went to a baseball rivalry Tuesday night, and talk of a hockey game broke out.
You're not alone, Chicago sports fans. Your baseball teams would rather discuss power plays than their lack of power too. While the Cubs and Sox dealt with a rain delay that eventually postponed their game, they spent much of the day wondering, like everybody else, if the Wings would force the Stanley Cup champion-favorite Blackhawks to endure a reign delay in Game 7.
A definite buzz spread quickly across the city Tuesday about a group of guys bound to entertain the masses with a rollicking performance at the United Center. The Rolling Stones were in town too.
I don't recall another Crosstown Classic in which so many conversations included crosschecking.
Across from Konerko in the Cubs dugout, manager Dale Sveum tapped into his inner Coach Q, publicly questioning a call that had nothing to do with an umpire. A Hawks fan, Sveum was hardly complaining but wondered aloud whether forward Michael Frolik deserved the penalty shot that resulted in the Game 6-winning goal.
"They obviously got a nice little questionable penalty shot there," Sveum said.
There is no photographic evidence, but Sveum actually smiled when sharing his itinerary after Wednesday's scheduled Cubs-Sox day game. The cruelest joke circulating during the downpour was that a rescheduled day-night doubleheader would foil the nighttime plans of the hockey fans in both clubhouses.
"There's not too many times Game 7s come around," Sveum said, perhaps unaware the Hawks and Wings haven't met in a Game 7 in 48 years. "You've got to do everything you can do to make that one."
You can understand why the Cubs and Sox, both under .500, would welcome the diversion.
The Cubs have done nothing on the field to steal attention from their minor league prospects or major renovation of Wrigley Field. The Sox have regressed defensively despite solid starting pitching and look like a middling team that might need a midseason shakeup.
Not even playing one another generated excitement in a baseball season destined to drag locally. I have no problem with Major League Baseball reducing the number of intracity games or with the Cubs and Sox playing one another four consecutive days. But to maximize fan interest, these games need to be played in June or July. The Cubs-Sox series in May makes the games even easier to ignore considering constant interleague play already has diminished the novelty.
"It's not quite as heightened as it used to be," Konerko acknowledged.
The one guy worthy of distracting Chicago from its Game 7 obsession for a few hours was on the mound before the sky opened _ no, not Edwin Jackson. Chris Sale started with a scoreless streak of 23 innings that remains intact _ thank you, Mother Nature _ and dominance that, in terms of style and substance, reminded Sveum of former Pirates left-hander John Candelaria.
"That stuff and that arm angle isn't something you see on a regular basis," Sveum said.
It was amusing but not really apt to hear sports talkers debate whether Jeff Samardzija had supplanted Sale as Chicago's best pitcher. Samardzija did something Monday that no Cubs pitcher had done since Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown in 1906: throw a shutout against the White Sox. Few Cubs pitchers have been that overpowering without throwing a no-hitter. Bravo.
Still, in 39 career starts over the last two seasons, Samardzija is 12-19. His lifetime ERA is 3.88. In 38 career starts, Sale is 22-10. His lifetime ERA is 2.83. Give Samardzija the edge in long-term health, but what else? Both possess live arms and bright futures. But on a playoff team, Sale projects as an ace; Samardzija as a No. 2.
Perhaps we can revisit that debate when more people care, like after hockey season.
Chicagoans everywhere hope that's not tomorrow.